What is Chai?

“Chai” is the Hindi word for “tea”, which was derived from “cha”, the Chinese word for “tea”.

The Hindi term chai means a mix of spices which is then steeped into a tea-like drink. Whilst chai recipes can vary , the traditional ingredients of a spiced tea blend usually include:

  • black tea – Assam and Darjeeling are the most commonly used as a base
  • strong spices, for example cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and black peppercorns – the variation in spices are what makes the chai taste so very different from brew to brew
  • milk – a strong milk is often used, originally buffalo milk, but now cow or diary alternatives are used in the UK
  • sweetener – white or brown sugar to honey are typically added to bring in the sweetness

With the infinite number of choices as to what comprises your chai tea, you can see how the brew can suit many tastes.

Our own Kathakali Masala Chai uses the spices of cardamom and ginger, with a hint of cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.. We use Assam as the base.

The caffeine content is moderate leaving you with a warming, energising drink.

that tea plant was cultivated and how it was processed, and the way the chai was ultimately brewed for your cup.

Here are some tips for brewing your chai:

  • Chai can be steeped in water alone, a mixture of water and milk, or in milk alone, depending on your preference. (You never want to truly boil milk, though, or you could scald or burn it, leaving an off flavour.)
  • Using about 2 grams of loose leaf chai blend per 8 oz. cup of water/milk is a safe bet, if your tea has not come with instructions.
  • Always start with fresh, pure, cold filtered water when brewing tea. Spring water is the best. And cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
  • A classic chai steeping method:
    • Steep your chai blend in one quarter to one half boiled water for up to 5 minutes (for chai with black or green tea leaves) or up to 15 minutes (for an herbal chai).
    • Meanwhile, heat desired amount of milk to just barely a boil.
    • Stir hot milk and desired sweetener into the water-steeped chai mixture.
    • Strain and enjoy.
  • Just as with straight black tea or green teas, you don’t want to overstep a chai blend that contain tea or it may release some bitterness and astringency from the tea leaves. Taste your chai after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.
  • If your chai contains black tea, it can be brewed a bit longer and in slightly hotter water temperatures than chai that contains green tea. Generally, this is somewhere between 200 and 212 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. If your chai has a green tea base, it should be steeped at a lower temperature, somewhere around 170 to 190 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. (If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. The boiling temperature drops about a degree for every 1,000 feet in altitude increase.)